Forza Motorsport 5 – Smarter than the average AI (Xbox One)

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Forza 1image0038Driving. There’s nothing like it, especially in Johannesburg traffic which is less of a pleasant excursion and more like a survival trial on the way home from the office. But there is a place that you can go to take to the road, get a little competitive and maybe just enjoy your driving experience without having to worry about traffic cops and suicidal opponents road-users.

That place is Forza Motorsport 5, which is set to hit the country at the end of this month when the Xbox One lands all official-like. Forza 5 is all about the cars: how they drive, what they look like, how they sound and, in general, just about enjoying yourself while you’re behind the wheel, whether it’s in a stock Mazda or a high-end Italian supercar.

Top Gear

Forza 2From the opening sequence that puts the average player behind the wheel of a car that will cost them every bit of cash they will ever make in their lives and expects them to be sedate about taking corners while appreciating the scenery (spoiler: That’s not going to happen) to the later stages of play where you’re fending off the folks on your friend’s list in a battle for the podium finish, Forza 5 is a polished affair. Cars look and handle very differently, depending on which assists are in place, how you’ve upgraded and tuned your ride and which section of the track you’ve hit at far too great a speed trying to shave off those vital seconds. And that’s what counts.

Each section of the game, from the main introduction to the intros to various racing leagues, are given voice-overs by Jeremy Clarkson and the folks from the Top Gear crew. It’s a nice touch, though one that could have been expanded upon. We’d pay good money to have Clarkson and Hammond narrate one or two of our trips around the track instead of just opening the door for us on the way there.

The Brains of the Outfit

Forza 3But it’s really the on-track performance that makes Forza 5 the driving experience that it is, thanks to the Drivatar system. Drivatar is an AI that learns from your own racing, how you hit corners, whether you barge or brake late or save your aggression for when you can slingshot around a competitor safely. Once the Drivatar has enough data, it takes to the track when you’re absent, acting as a racer in other folks’ games based on how you handle your vehicle.

This of course means that you’re constantly racing against real people, even when they’re just the AI in your single-player game. Expect to see people on your friends list looming in the rear view or taking the lead, depending on how good they are, while attempting to play the game alone. This also means that opponent performance feels more real than perfectly programmed AI ever could, we saw a few errors made by Drivatar drivers that let us take the lead at crucial moments. It’s always a multiplayer game in that sense, though you also have the option to race against live drivers instead of just intelligent representations of them.

Limiter

Forza 4While the cars are all gorgeous-sounding and looking beasts, as are each of the tracks available from the outset, the base game may not have enough track variety to keep you happy unless you’re a real petrolhead. Eventually the tracks will get tiresome and it’s up to the cars to make up the excitement. Not a bad thing, the range of cars is up to the task but the scenery may get a bit boring.

There’s also the damage model to worry about or, rather, the lack of one. You can scuff and ding your car but nothing will ever affect performance, even with all the assists set to ‘simulator mode’. Speaking of which, you can choose your experience. Just along for the ride? Assists will keep you (mostly) on the road. Expert driver? Take full control of those horses on the hairpin – if you can.

Verdict

Forza Motorsport 5 is the sort of game that you need to play on the Xbox One, if only to see what developer Turn 10 have done with their Drivatar-controlled AI. But any Top Gear, racing in general or visual candy fans will be impressed with the slick presentation, smooth performance and enjoyability of Forza 5. It makes a nice change from real traffic.

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